The United States isn’t the only country in the pangs of a political predicament today. Israel just had a close and contentious election, and nobody knows what the nation’s next government will look like. Nor where it will take the peace process, if it takes it anywhere at all. But there are parallels to politics in the U.S., namely, President Trump’s expanding wall along the border with Mexico, and the mighty wall that separates Israel from the Palestinian West Bank. BoomerCafé’s co-founder and executive editor Greg Dobbs covered the Middle East for many years, and now, as Israel enters an unpredictable new day, Dobbs takes a look in this Boomer Opinion piece at Israel’s efforts to stay safe.
The United States doesn’t need a wall along our border with Mexico. Notwithstanding his egregious exaggerations about “criminals, drug dealers, rapists” bursting through the border, the president cannot make a credible case for one.
But Israel can. So it has built one. Yet neither Benjamin Netanyahu nor any other prime minister ever had to make the case for it. Palestinian terrorists did it for them.
Today, the near-disappearance of terrorism since Israel began building a wall 20 years ago along its original border with the West Bank— Israelis call it a “separation barrier”— still makes the case convincing.
Until it went up, there had been an annual drumbeat of double-digit deaths from suicide bombings. I covered a few myself. But since then, the bombings have been reduced to a small fraction of what they used to be. The last fatalities, as best I can determine, were seven years ago.
In short, when it comes to security, Israel’s wall works. But when it comes to coexistence, it’s a different story. I’ve traveled along much of its length and it isn’t pretty— a concrete barrier stretching along several hundred miles of the border, as high as 26 feet, with razor wire along the top and booby-trapped do-not-enter zones alongside as wide as a hundred yards, complete with ditches to keep cars from ramming it.
What’s more, it not only all but encircles several Palestinian towns, it even cuts off brother from brother. One story I did maybe a dozen years ago focused on the pros and the cons of the wall, and one of the cons— told as a microcosm— was the tale of two brothers. Each could see the rooftop of the other’s house, both at the foot of Jerusalem, but the houses were separated by the wall— one was east of it, one was west— and it took either brother as long as six hours to get through a nearby checkpoint cut into the wall to visit the other.
What I could see, at that heavily fortified checkpoint and maybe half-a-dozen others through which I also passed over the years, was that while security was the pretext for the protracted and punishing passage of Palestinians from one side to the other, an equally obvious explanation for their onerous encounter was harassment.
And I say that from experience. As western journalists, perhaps posing in the eyes of Israelis a challenge to their process but not a threat to their security, we too were subjected to the laborious technicalities and almost endless interludes to move from one step of the passage to the next. I used to get in and out of the Soviet Union’s police state with less hassle than that.
This doesn’t mean I don’t see the wall’s primary purpose: if Israel lets up its guard, it risks letting in the terrorists.
But by making life even more toilsome on all Palestinians than it has to, which so far has been Netanyahu’s practice, Israel might be breeding more terrorists in the making. From my long-trusted contacts in the Palestinian Territories, that is exactly what’s happening. And things are only getting worse.
Which puts peace even farther from reach than before. And that’s saying something, since despite his pronounced goal of striking the “Deal of the Century” between Israel and the Palestinians, President Trump already has turned some of his best bargaining chips over to the Israelis, leaving little on the table to bring Palestinians back to it to negotiate a potentially persistent peace. If they’re even so inclined any more. As long-ago statesman Abba Eban once said, “The Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”
Read other stories and opinion pieces by Greg Dobbs. Click here!
The reality is, the new Israeli government, no matter who runs it, still will be bedeviled by enemy attacks, both from the increasingly restive Palestinian West Bank and even more so from the fiercely militant Gaza Strip. We would be naive to expect a happy ending here.
But if it does not emulate the practices of the past and turn a blind eye to the search for some sort of enduring and enforceable truce— if not a genuine peace— and if it does moderate its treatment of the majority of Palestinians who don’t threaten it, Israelis will be better off, Palestinians will be better off, the United States will be better off. Better off, not worse.
We’ve already got too many fires burning elsewhere. Too many other walls being built.